Southern Californians have been warned for many years to prepare for the “BIG” earthquake and most of the time the preparedness message has been geared towards the home however what is often overlooked is what does one do if an earthquake strikes while commuting? This is the one subject that concerns us the most and is very stressful thinking about this. There are those who do nothing more than to sugarcoat the subject which is avoiding the reality of the commuter nightmare lurking around the corner. Do not take this subject lightly! We have also noticed that there is not a lot of attention on this subject when doing a Google search. Hmm?
Let’s suppose for a moment that the Southern California region get hits with a magnitude 8.0 quake on a Monday afternoon at about 3:30pm. As Southern Californians are aware, traffic on that day and time is absolute hell on many of the freeways especially on the nationally re-known 405 freeway. At times traffic is at a standstill. Do you see the nightmare scenario brewing? If you don’t, you better take note.
One could be driving and notice the car feels like it has a flat tire however what they are feeling the ground moving. Drivers could see overpasses or underpasses failing. A car could be pulled into a sinkhole. There are numerous scenarios that could be played out. One just never knows!
If a major earthquake were to strike the region in such a scenario, motorists and commuters will be stuck in trains (Metrolink), cars and busses due to road hazards or closures. Some of the hazards and closures may be attributed to debris or collapsed overpasses/underpasses. This will be true of highways closest to the ruptured fault and if it happens to be the San Andreas fault, expect major damage on highways. Additionally, there will be congested surface streets as motorists attempt to get around obstacles but may find signals inoperable do to widespread power disruption. The potential for major gridlock is extremely high in the event of a major Southern California earthquake.
Let’s take a tour into the past and look at two examples where earthquakes caused road hazards/closures. The first one was the 1989 San Francisco earthquake which was recorded as a 6.9 magnitude quake. If you remember, a 1.25-mile segment of the two-level Cypress Street Viaduct along the Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880), just south of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, collapsed during the quake, resulting in 42 fatalities when the upper level of the road crashed onto the cars on the lower level. One person was killed when a portion of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge–which had been scheduled for a retrofitting the following week—collapsed onto the lower level.
Then we look at the 1994 Northridge earthquake which was recorded as a 6.7 magnitude quake. The earthquake gained worldwide attention because of damage to the vast freeway network, which serves millions of commuters every day. The most notable of this damage was to the Santa Monica Freeway, Interstate 10, known as the busiest freeway in the United States, congesting nearby surface roads for three months while the freeway was repaired. Farther north, the Newhall Pass interchange of Interstate 5 (the Golden State Freeway) and State Route 14 (the Antelope Valley Freeway) collapsed as it had 23 years earlier in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake even though it had been rebuilt with minor improvements to the structural components.
Many Southern Californians drive up to on average 30 to 120 minutes to and from work or home. Depending on traffic, it could take much longer. What will you do in this case? An hour from home might as well be a week to get home if hiking it back. Walking or hiking may not be an option for those such as the very young or the very old. This is the nightmare scenario we speak of. Do you get a bit antsy while under an overpass? We certainly do and we make no bones about it.
So now what? What if you are caught in major gridlock and unable to move? The next best thing would be to shelter in place, in your car because it could be some time before cars are able to move. It would also be a good idea to tune into local news radio if at all possible.
If you have to shelter in place, it would be wise to prepare by assembling an emergency survival kit for your car. This would be a kit that can be kept in your car and a kit that is designed to withstand cold/hot temps all year round.
The following is a recommended list of items to have in your emergency car kit but keep in mind that each kit can be custom tailored to your specific needs. There is no perfect or complete kit.
- A bag or car box for storing your emergency goodies
- A flashlight with batteries stored separately, or a solar/crank flashlight
- Spare Shoes
- Spare Socks
- Work gloves
- Water-enough for each person for 72 hours
- Emergency cash in small bills-ATMs may not be working
- Dust mask/bandana
- High calorie snack items/MRE’s
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool or toolkit
- Car charger for your phone
Since it is a car and not a backpack, you can go a bit further. Consider adding warning flares, blankets, extra socks & mittens, an inverter for running electronics off your car battery, and a shovel. Consider it your home earthquake kit on wheels.